How quickly can South Africa regroup?
The members of curator Pandurang Salgaocar's crew at the MCA stadium in Pune were kept busy on the eve of the second Test. The covers had to be kept on standby in anticipation of the showers that have routinely arrived in the entire week leading up to the game, the pitch had to be dusted, and the grass shaved off.
Salgaocar must be feeling the heat. And that's not necessarily to do with the weather in Pune which has oscillated between dry heat and showers for more than a week now. The pressure is for redemption from having prepared a pitch for the venue's Test debut in 2017 that was rated poor by the ICC. That game where the pitch cracked up very early, didn't even last three full days and saw India crumble against a novice left-arm spinner from Australia.
India have moved on since that flattening defeat, not losing again at home in 10 Tests [7 wins, 3 draws], and look set to keep their early Test Championship gallop going. But South Africa might yet present the biggest challenge a visiting side has in Tests in a couple of years.
A day out from the game, du Plessis was rather vocal about the resilient qualities of his side, and that they batted exceptionally well in the first innings in Vizag. The next step then, per the skipper, is to start well - unlike in the first Test where they allowed India to post a 500-plus total.
There's a bit of unknown about the Pune surface heading into Day 1. Regular showers in the week leading up to the game would've definitely had its impact - what with moisture settling under the surface - as would the bright sunshine in the last three days. Both India and South Africa are approaching this uncertainty in their own way - while Kohli reckoned the team combination can't afford to be lopsided and armed with one kind of bowlers to suit the conditions, Du Plessis said the mentality was to go in expecting the ball to turn a lot more than it did in Vizag.
When: India vs South Africa, 2nd Test, October 10-14, 9:30 AM IST
Where: Maharashtra Cricket Association International stadium, Pune
What to expect: An afternoon thunderstorm is anticipated on each of the five days of the Test. There's a very light tinge of green on the wicket, but that could be just a cosmetic addition.
Kuldeep Yadav accompanied Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara in their earliest inspection of the pitch, but it is unlikely the Ashwin-Jadeja alliance will be broken up. Kohli explained how the pair also add to India's lower-order batting and that Kuldeep was understanding of the situation which catered to the greater good of the team's horses-for-courses approach.
Probable XI: Rohit Sharma, Mayank Agarwal, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Hanuma Vihari, Wriddhiman Saha, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma
Faf du Plessis threw his weight behind his under-fire deputy Temba Bavuma to come good - and do it at No.4 - while also talking up importance of Senuran Muthusamy's batting contributions down the order, which means the top seven in Pune should be the same as Vizag. The buzzwords for Faf du Plessis going into the second Test has been - picking up 20 wickets - which could mean a bowling unit shake-up.
After what Shami pulled off on Day 5 in the first Test, Du Plessis could be tempted to bring in either Lungi Ngidi or Anrich Nortje, but at the cost of who?
The skipper spoke of the need for players to contribute with the bat from the No.7 and 8 position, which means Vernon Philander could retain his spot - on reputation rather than form after bagging a pair in the first Test. In that case, for either of the other two quicks to come in, Dane Piedt will have to make way.
Piedt scored a half-century in the fourth innings from No. 10, but was underwhelming in his primary vocation - offbreak bowling, conceding 209 runs in 36 overs across the two innings for just one wicket. His absence though would mean Muthusamy will have to put in a bigger shift with the ball in hand than he did in Vizag (15 and 3 overs in the first and second innings respectively).
Probable XI: Aiden Markram, Dean Elgar, Theunis de Bruyn, Temba Bavuma, Faf du Plessis, Quinton de Kock, Senuran Muthusamy, Vernon Philander, Keshav Maharaj, Lungi Ngidi, Kagiso Rabada
Did you know:
- The Pune Test will be Virat Kohli's 50th as captain. His 29 wins in the first 49 matches is surpassed only by Steve Waugh (36) & Ricky Ponting (34).
- A win in the Test would give India their 11th consecutive series win at home - the most by any team in succession at home.
- Keshav Maharaj is one wicket away from becoming the fifth South Africa spinner to 100 Test wickets. His 27 Tests to 100 wickets will be the fewest among all SA spinners since re-admission.
What they said:
"The difference with us from 2015, where you try and survive in Indian spinning conditions and with that sometimes you can become too defensive and you allow the opposition to be on top of you the whole time, now it needs to be a good combination of positive play, an element of taking risks at some stages of the game to try and counter that pressure from the bowling. The balance between attack and defense is key when you are playing in the subcontinent." - Faf du Plessis
"The importance of every game has become that much more. In situations, in a three-match series, you probably would have played out a draw, but teams are going to go for wins and get those extra points. So, I think it's great for Test cricket. The matches are going to be that much more exciting. We have to be professional in every session that we play " - Virat Kohli